What if Palestinians protest for peace?

A new campaign could change views on both sides of the divide.

palestinian girls 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
palestinian girls 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Forty years ago, following three weeks of unimaginable anxiety regarding the continued existence of the State of Israel, the IDF swept across the Sinai, the Golan Heights and the West Bank, not only taking the entire world by surprise, but also the people of Israel themselves. The amazing military victory also brought with it renewed hopes for the possibility of peace with our neighbors. It took yet another full-fledged war in 1973 before the block of Arab resistance toward peace was broken. Now, 40 years later, and after a peace treaty with Jordan and a failed peace process with the Palestinians, peace with our immediate neighbors seems to be even more remote than at any other time in the past. New public opinion research conducted by IPCRI, the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, has shown that fear of the Palestinians, lack of trust in their aspirations and ability to be partners for peace are the greatest obstacles to Israeli willingness to move ahead toward a peace process and towards making concessions. Fear and lack of trust may be greater obstacles to achieving peace than reconciling the compromises Israel will have to make. But the research also shows that there are ways in which the Palestinians could change Israeli attitudes. Although similar research on the Palestinian side has yet to be conducted, from intimate knowledge of Palestinian public opinion it is easy to assume that similar results would be found regarding the lack of trust they feel toward Israelis. Ultimately, Israelis express willingness for the overall outlines of a peace settlement. Although the problems of refugees and Jerusalem remain a sticking point, a majority would still support an agreement based on the Clinton Plan. Despite political willingness for compromise in principle, 62% of Israelis believe that Palestinians want to establish their state on all the territory from the Jordan to the sea. Fifty-six percent believe that Palestinians want such a state without Jews. Only 33% believe that Palestinians want a state beyond the Green Line (all or part of those territories). THE SAME majority, 63%, believes that only very few Palestinians are willing to make concessions to reach a final status peace accord with Israel (compared to 35% who felt that many Palestinians were prepared for this). Nearly four times as many Israelis (30%) believe that almost no Palestinians are prepared to make concessions for peace as those who believe that most of them will (8%). Israelis would be slightly more optimistic if there were a peace process in progress. If negotiations were restarted and it seemed that a final status accord was within reach, some 43% of Israelis believe that some or most of the Palestinians would be capable of being peace partners. Still, a majority (56.2%) believed few or hardly any Palestinians would be partners. The results of the study point to deep anxiety among Israelis regarding their neighbors. When asked if they are more hopeful or more fearful regarding a future peace process with the Palestinians, nearly 70% say they are fearful regarding a future peace process, compared to 27% who are hopeful. Those who say they are very fearful outnumber those who say they are very hopeful by more than five to one (52% to 10%, respectively). ON A POSITIVE note, the research also shows that Israelis are open to changing their attitudes toward Palestinians and could be convinced that they are partners for peace and willing to make compromises. Clearly, as the study shows, if Palestinians took steps to help Israelis to view them as partners, those steps would have significant impact on Israeli public opinion. Teaching peace in schools and mosques and going out to demonstrate for peace, make the strongest impressions on majorities of Israelis. When presented with a scenario where the Palestinian Ministry of Education removes all textbooks from the curriculum that incite against Israel and replace them with textbooks educating for acceptance of the State of Israel and the importance of living with it in peace, nearly 70% of Israelis said it would increase their trust that the Palestinians want to make concessions for peace. When presented with the following: A number of influential Palestinian religious leaders, including in Hamas, declare on Palestinian television in Arabic that according to Islam, Jews have the right to live in their historic homeland and Palestinian Muslims must accept this, almost 60% of Israelis said it would increase their trust in that the Palestinians want to make concessions for peace. Likewise, 63% of Israelis said that if more than 100 Palestinian public leaders from the fields of culture, academia and religion were to call on Palestinians publicly to recognize Israel and make peace with it, it would raise their level of trust that the Palestinians want concessions for peace. A similar number said that they would trust the Palestinians more if they were to hold mass demonstrations where they call for historic compromise with Israel, two states for two people, an end to the occupation, and an end to the conflict. DURING THE week of June 5 marking 40 years of occupation, dynamic and determined Palestinians are working with Israeli counterparts to organize a campaign not only against the occupation but also for full peace with Israel on the basis of two states for two peoples. These young people, many who have spent years in Israeli prisons for fighting against Israel, have received the blessing of Mahmoud Abbas and of imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti. This will be the first time since the beginning of Oslo that thousands of Palestinians will demonstrate for peace. In light of IPCRI's research, this new Palestinian peace campaign could be quite significant. It is important to recognize that the Palestinian public is also in need of convincing that there is a partner for peace on the Israeli side. It is my hope that at the outset of the 41st year of the occupation, the end of the occupation is in sight. The road to peace lies before us, waiting for people on both sides to step forward toward each other. The writer is co-CEO of IPCRI, the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.